MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Bebe Moore Campbell was a writer and novelist with a special touch for addressing race and social issues. She contributed commentaries to Morning Edition for NPR for several years. Bebe Moore Campbell died today from complications of brain cancer. She was 56. As a commentator, Campbell was outspoken on behalf of people she saw as short changed by life. Battered spouses, bullied children and people with mental illness.
BEBE MOORE CAMPBELL: Stigma is one of the main reasons why people with mental health problems don't seek treatment or take their medications. People of color, particularly African Americans feel the stigma more keenly. In a race conscious society, some don't want to be perceived as having yet another deficit.
NORRIS: Campbell was also unafraid of exposing her own weakness. Once, after rolling blackouts in California, she shared one of her paralyzing fears, elevators.
CAMPBELL: I've been climbing stairs, lots of them. Tina Turner, girl, you better move over. Hanes, send me the contract. My legs are in great shape. My mind, now that's another story. I am what I call elevator challenged. I have claustrophobia that results in panic whenever I'm in a small enclosed space.
NORRIS: Bebe Moore Campbell was the author of several best selling books that explored issues of race from several vintage points including “Brothers and Sisters”, “Singing in the Comeback Choir” and “Your Blues Ain't Like Mine.” Her latest book “72 Hour Hold” looked at the stigma of mental illness in the black community and closer to home. Marita Golden joins us now. She was a friend of Bebe Moore Campbell and she's also a fellow novelist. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. MARITA GOLDEN (Author): I'm glad to be here to remember a really, really, wonderful writer and a classy lady.
NORRIS: You know she was a journalist for many years before she became an author. How did that inform her work, both the stories she told and the way she told them.
Ms. GOLDEN: Well I think her background as a journalist equipped her to really feel that no story was off limits. But I think as much as her journalism training was important, Bebe was also like me, a writer who came of age in the sixties. And coming of age at that time with the political turmoil, with the redefinition of woman, redefinition of minorities, she really saw writing as a way to change the world one reader at a time.
NORRIS: As we said, she explored race from different vintage points. You know how different races would view a single incident. Was she trying to help people on both sides of a racial divide see and understand each other?
Ms. GOLDEN: Oh yeah. I definitely think so and I remember when her book “Brothers and Sisters” came out, the book about the Los Angeles Riot. It was so compassionate in the way it sort of circled that whole story and looked at it for a number of different points of view, a number of different vintage points that really while entertaining the reader, challenged the reader to think twice, to think trice. To think many times about what they thought they knew about white people, about black people and really understand that we really are brothers and sisters.
NORRIS: Rita, how was she regarded by other writers?
Ms. GOLDEN: She was regarded as a very important writer. She was regarded as an important writer because of the topics that she took on. She was regarded as important because she was a good writer and she was just so productive. I mean she had a work ethic you know that was just amazing. The thing that I remember about Bebe was that she was very, very, successful, on the New York Times bestseller list.
But she also wrote from the heart. She wrote with a sense of mission and I worked with her on a project called “Wild Women Don't Wear no Blues,” where she wrote a piece about black men and white women which had some wicked, wickedly funny jokes. So she was classy, she was smart. She was savvy but she did have a really wicked sense of humor.
NORRIS: She could make you laugh and cry in the same paragraph.
Ms. GOLDEN: Yeah, yeah.
NORRIS: Well, Marita, thank you so much for speaking to us and sharing your memories of your friend.
Ms. GOLDEN: Thank you Michele.
NORRIS: That was the novelist Marita Golden. She was speaking to us about Bebe Moore Campbell, the writer who died in Los Angeles today at the age of 56.